September 23, 2006
Sierra Nevada Endurance Run
What follows is my full length race report. It’s written for a wider audience. Feel free to browse. I’m feeling well. I have a sore right forefoot that I noticed the last hour of running. I suspect some tendonitis. I’m in stiff soled shoes for a while. My retrocalcaneal bursitis really screamed at points during the run but then faded. I don’t notice it at all now. (?)
Things that went right:
- I drank every 5 minutes as planned.
- I started walk breaks from the beginning (18:2 X 4 hours, then 17:3 X 4 hours then 16:4).
- I ate some Clif bar every time I took a walk break, even if I didn’t feel like eating (especially when I didn’t feel like eating = need to eat!)
- Ate and drank extra at each aid station as well.
- I took an S-cap every 30-60 minutes (monitor myself for hand swelling. If present, take more salt).
- I carried a hand-held with plain water for splashing on myself.
- I cooled off in cold water when available (once in trail side irrigation canal and once into a creek/pool).
- I slowed down if I felt my HR escalating.
- I walked up all the hills until the last 10-15 miles (I didn’t need to after that).
- Cleaned my feet, reapplied body glide and changed my socks at 35 miles.
I arrived a day early and took the opportunity to volunteer at packet pick up on Friday. This was primarily for the 100 milers and I met quite a few of them. It was really nice to hear the pre-race talk and it got me very excited anticipating the day that I’ll be ready for such a feat. The RD discussed the trail marking. There had been other races along portions of the trail that month and some colored tape was still hanging around. “Only pay attention to the pink tape!” He made them all repeat it out loud then also had some one who was wearing pink stand up so everybody could be sure they knew that the color pink was. Unfortunately there some trail marking vandalism had taken place during the week and he warned folks to use not just the pink tape, but also the chalk arrows (or glow sticks at night) to guide them. After the briefing everyone left but I had offered to drive a runner back to the hotel once his pacer showed up from the airport. This 40 minute wait stretched out to 90 minutes and during this time we helped Norm string the Christmas lights along the start/finish area. I got back to the hotel and to bed in plenty of time to get a fitful night of sleep.
The next morning I got up in plenty of time, ate, showered and dressed. I arrived attired for a hot day. Since it was still dark out the temps were hovering around 60 degrees but most of the other runners had layers of shirts, gloves and hats on. There I was in my short sleeved shirt and hand held water bottle at the ready to douse myself when I got too warm. I placed myself towards the back of the pack, turned on my head lamp and when the “Go” signal went off, so did we. I followed the herd into the darkness, not able nor caring much to notice my surroundings. After about 30 minutes there was light enough to see without the head lamp and it was already getting warm.
The trail was so dry that a thick layer of “moon dust” was kicked up by every foot step and we breathed this all day long. It was an incentive to stay at the front of the group or to allow yourself to fall way behind. The air was so dry you could practically feel the static electricity building up on your clothes just from running. I religiously drank every 5 minutes.
The 100 milers went out very conservatively and walked even the slightest inclines. I followed suit, knowing that the heat of the day would sap my strength later and I’d be glad I had conserved. The rocky single track trail undulated along hills and boulders beside a lake and river valley. The foliage, when there was any, consisted of dry straw that had once been grass, most of it with prickly burrs. The trees were losing leaves in a dry, scorched, “that’s it for me this season” kind of way. The temps eventually peaked at 87 degrees and the humidity dropped to 5% for the day..
Despite the hill walking, I still took a several minute walk break about every 20 minutes. It wasn’t long before we hit the first aid station and I already needed to refill my the water bladder in my back pack. Another dry undulating stretch brought us to the second and third aid stations and the full force of the sun. Next there was a long section of 9 miles between aid stations and although there were about 30 gallons of water deposited 2 miles in, we were asked to be conservative with this supply. That meant I didn’t waste my hand held water by dosing myself with it. I drank it. And still I ran out well before the next aid station..
There’s one thing the RD didn’t waste any money on for this race that I wish he had…toileting facilities. Nary a port-a-potty was rented. We were instructed to answer nature’s call in nature itself, but for God’s sake, don’t litter with toilet paper. Carry it back in a plastic bag if you need to use any. O…K… There was lots of squatting going on all day and once again I am jealous of the superiority of the male anatomy for its efficiency in liquid waste disposal. Do you know how hard it is to squat with tired legs? Many of the women have perfected the ability to semi-squat and pee without even having to drop trou. But that’s a whole other essay. Note to self: hot spicy Indian food for lunch the day before an ultra is not such a good idea..
Before long we were in the open, without the cover of shade. There was little wind and the sun was beating down. Along most of the route you could see the river at various distances from us…usually getting farther and farther away as we climbed up the canyon. I sometimes fantasized about running down there for a swim. Along this section of trail was the Rattle Snake Bar aid station and one of our drop bag spots. I grabbed some more Clif Bars and salt from my supplies and continued on after stocking up with a PB&J sandwich from the table..
The biggest challenge of the trip for the 50 milers is “Cardiac Hill” a 1.5 mile vertical climb of who knows what. It’s steep, it’s rocky, it’s rooty, it’s dry. I was happy to get to climb for a while and it didn’t seem so bad. For the first time I actually had to wipe sweat off my face. Compared to some of the hills I’ve climbed in training around here, it wasn’t too hard and for this I was grateful…especially since there wasn’t any mud to slip on. It was the heat and dryness that made this race a tough challenge for me. But, the climb was over in about 30 minutes and another aid station soon followed. Good thing, too since I had already run out of fluids on the way up. Time for another PB&J as well as more fluids. I was consuming over 60 ounces every hour. I felt remarkably tired for having covered less than a third of the distance. I’ve been able to run many more tough miles at home with less fatigue and I knew it was mostly on account of the heat and dryness. I kept trying to control for what I could. Go slower, drink more, take more salt.
The next section consisted of a tree canopy covered trail along side a cement irrigation ditch. There was about 2 feet of cool fresh flowing water just at our feet but mostly too far from our reach to be useful. At one spot I was able to get down close enough to reach in and splash my head and chest. After another few miles, another aid station and our second drop bags we eventually turned on to the Western States trail. What a thrill it was to run that famous stretch to No Hands bridge and then back. I’ve read many race reports featuring this section of trail. Along this section we passed a couple of small creeks and I used them to cool off my feet when they were deep enough. There was one especially nice one that had an actual pool of water. On the way out I got in knee deep and splashed myself with water like an elephant (except without the trunk). I never have problems with soggy feet and with the low humidity I knew they would be dry again shortly. Cooling them off felt wonderful for the brief time it lasted.
Finally we came to the turn around at the No Hands Bridge aid station. The 100 milers had an additional killer climb and 16 mile loop before heading back (and then an additional 33 mile loop later). I continued to feel very slow and struggled to run the downs and flats and was secretly grateful for the many hills I could walk up. My ankles and feet were very sore. My quads were in great shape, though. A stumbled back to the aid station with my drop bag but forgot to grab my extra S-caps. I realized my mistake too late and did a quick calculation…I probably had enough to last until I could get to my other drop box. I’d be sure to eat chips and salty aid station foods (as well as my PB&Js). On my way back by the deep creek pool I actually took off my pack and got into the water up to my neck. Heaven! I’ll bet everyone thought I was just really sweaty as I dripped and glistened down the trail. The run (walk) down Cardiac Hill was as much slide on your heals as it was step down. Funny, it didn’t seem that steep on the way up.
By the time we got to that 9 mile stretch between aid stations it was the hottest part of the day and the least shade. I ran out of water well before the aid station. I started to get a headache. The river below looked cool and inviting…though about 100 feet down a cliff. All I wanted to do was get to my drop box at Rattle Snake bar. I was feeling so bad that I figured I could use a 10 minutes sit down rest. Just 10 minutes, no more, but the rest and cooling down period hopefully would help me to continue.
Before the race I ran through a list of reasons to drop. Injury. Severe illness (nausea and vomiting). Miss a time cut off. Being tired just wasn’t good enough of an excuse. As long as I was still within the cut off times, I knew I had to keep going, like it or not. I was suffering, though, and hardly moving so it was taking a long time to get to Rattle Snake Bar. Then it occurs to me. Rattle Snakes. It must be an aptly named place…there must be lots of rattlers in these hills. That’s it! If I could just get bitten by a rattle snake, then I’d have the perfect excuse to drop out! I was only half joking to myself.
Finally, the aid station appears. It took forever. I cooled off with an ice water sponge bath then sat down to change my socks. Despite the water soaks my feet have never looked better! More body glide and new socks. Another fellow stumbled in behind me and practically collapsed. I informed the aid station workers that if he required medical attention I was available to look and see what I could do for him. The volunteer reassured me that today I was a runner, not a doctor. Besides, she was an E.R. nurse and had things well under control. Sadly, my 10 minutes were up and I couldn’t even finagle more resting time by to tend to the sick. Off I went.
I figured I’d finish but suspected it would be slow and ugly. The next aid station, though just 3 miles away took forever to come. I sat in a chair to refuel. None of the food was looking very good any more, but I took my PB&J and forced it down anyway. I also finally broke down and took some ibuprofen for my headache. I downed several cups of Coke and took a caffeine laced chocolate GU (they sure are thinner when warm) and took off before the chair sucked me in completely.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. I found a slow trudge running speed that felt better than walking and quit taking walk breaks. They seemed like more work than this new gear. Then the gear switched and I was going faster. My breathing came easy. My nausea and head ache lifted. My running became fluid and enjoyable, just like a fun training run at home. Finally it was starting to cool off and as the sun and the temperature went down my strength returned. It was there all along, oppressed by the heat, just waiting. Luckily I didn’t deplete it while it was in hibernation. Up and down the trail I flew! I passed people who had previously passed me. I was smiling and having a great time. I felt fabulous. I coasted through the last aid station stopping just long enough to refill my backpack but packing away my hand held since I didn’t need it any more. Away I went! I knew I had just 40 minutes or less and I’d be done. I saw a flock of turkeys in the grass as I ran by. I startled a little bunny. I kept thinking that there was no reason to save back anything so I may as well let it all go and I flew faster and faster along the trail.
By this time it’s getting to be dusk and I’m entering territory that I ran previously in darkness on the way out. The pink ribbons were getting harder to see and the path was criss-crossing a convoluted network of trails. A few times I had to stop and look around to decipher where to go next. No one was around me (I passed them all!) but eventually I found pink flagging and took off again.
Despite running faster and faster I never did seem to come upon the finish area. There was a levee we ran up to on the way out…I’m on the levee running for quite a while now. I saw a sign pointing down the levee. I wish I had remembered how far down the levee we ran on the way out. It goes on and on and on. Eventually I start to imagine that I must have figured out the distances wrong. Or miscalculated the time I left the last aid station. I know I’ve gone more than 3 miles unless I’m completely deluded and instead of running really fast, I’m hallucinating. Then I imagine that there’s a secret to the race. It’s really several miles longer than posted but you don’t get to find that out until you cross the finish line (“you just run 57 miles, not 53! Keep it hush, hush, though!). Nah….wait, there’s a bright light and tables…is that an aid station?! It must be a volunteer lighting the way to the last turn before the finish.
They look about as puzzled to see me as I am to see them. What I have come across is the next aid station for the 100 milers for when they take off on the last 33 mile loop.
“Where’s the trail?” I ask. “What?” they reply. “I’m looking for the finish,” I plead. “Are you a 50 miler? Oh no, you passed it! It’s back there…about 3 miles back…” My heart sinks. My mouth opens and out comes expletives. Lots of them, over and over and over. “Drat! Drat, drat, drat, drat, drat!!!!!!” Only each “drat” starts with “f”. Then I start to sob. My composure is gone. My strength is gone. My resolve is gone. Now I have to turn back and run again that section of trail that would never end. And I still don’t know where I went wrong. I could be out there for days and still never find the end!
And the huge come back I made over the last 10 miles is gone. (Well, 13 miles, but who’s counting)
The wonderful volunteer takes matters into his hands and instantly calls the RD and informs him of my dilemma. Surely, since I’ve run well PAST the 53.2 miles (by 3!) I can be considered done, can’t I? Yes, the R.D. says. They guesstimate my finishing time as the time I came into that aid station. My initial relief is replaced by a sense of unfinished business. “But I need to cross the finish line. I can’t be done if I don’t cross the finish line.” So the plan is made that he will drive me to a point half way back to the finish and drop me off to run. He will then drive over to the finish and walk up to meet me at the point I should have turned off in the first place (and just 1/4 mile from the end). I run, we meet, I finish. It’s not exactly how I envisioned the race playing out, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I ran 57.5 miles that day and honestly felt like I could have kept going for a while yet. Good thing, too.
Things that did not go well (besides missing the last turn): Doing this event solo meant that when I was too tired to do something, it didn’t get done. By the time I got back to the hotel I was too lazy to figure out something to eat for dinner. Besides, nothing sounded very good. I had some PB&J, yogurt and slim-fast and went to bed. I awoke many times in the night feeling awful…nausea and headache. I drank more water and another slim fast at 2AM. I ate a little in the morning but still felt pretty ill the first few hours of my drive. I eventually bit the bullet and decided I had to stop for a proper meal and forced myself to eat breakfast at a restaurant. Within an hour I felt like a new person. Then every 2 hours I was ravenously hungry again and ate the rest of my way home…stop for a scone, stop for lunch, stop for ice cream, etc. I also had to stop for sleep a few times to avoid nodding off behind the wheel. I got home at 8 PM (thanks to a freeway accident that backed up traffic for about 45 minutes).
Rodney had a sushi plate waiting for me when I got home. I ate again. I finally felt full.